Saturday, July 15, 2006

back in the game

stratovarius - 'stratovarius'
released: august 31, 1005
running time: 49'21"
mayan records

songs: 1. maniac dance 2. fight!!! 3. just carry on 4. back to madness 5. gypsy in me 6.götterdämmerung (zenith of power) 7. the land of ice and snow 8. leave the tribe 9. united

There would have been much better Stratovarius records to inaugurate the Finnish band's presence on this blog, their masterpiece 'Visions' for example, but I chose this one because it represents a sort of coming back from the dark, after all the personal turmoil that took place, mainly with guitarist Timo Tolkki.

It’s therefore not easy to take this record solely for what it is, after the rollercoaster of events that preceded it, with wild accusations between the two main men, Tolkki and Kotipelto, impossible-to-understand member changes, surreal happenings with Tolkki, the lot. At one point, it was highly unlikely that another Stratovarius record would ever even exist. However, with Timo Tolkki’s mental health problem fortunately behind him (all credit to the man for explaining what happened openly), it is now time to confront the expectations, which should be mixed. On one hand, all the die-hard fans are surely anxious for the band’s rebirth, on the other hand, there are also many who expect the band to fall flat on its face after all that has happened. The final result is also a mixed bag.

To evaluate it simply and quickly, it is not even in the same galaxy as 'Visions'. However, 'Stratovarius' does have some merits to stand on. The simplicity of the compositions is the most promising, gone is some of the unnecessary bombast and keyboard-dependence that plagued their later releases. The overall mood of the album is one of sobriety and even low-profile. It might be argued if low-profile is a good thing in a Stratovarius album, but relax, you’re not in for a doom record either. The trademark 'happy' arrangements are very much present throughout. the problem is that they never really ignite like before. Apart from the excellent 'Gypsy In Me', one would be hard pressed to come up with more highlights than that song. While nothing on the record is embarrassing, nothing makes you stand up and air-guitar either.

The fact that the last song is called 'United' leaves us with a good sign, though. Let us then hope for this to be a new beginning, from which better and brighter things might arise.

the good: they're back and they've cleared a very difficult hurdle with an album that won't embarrass
the bad: some songs are quite passable, overall it's not in the same league as the rest of their career

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